The four centuries after Han dynasty collapsed (the 3rd to 7th centuries) were characterized by disunity and bloodshed and warlord rule. This was a period in which competing warlords fought over territory and the masses found religion in the form of Taoism and Buddhism in what was later called the "Chinese Age of Faith." China was not united again until the Sui Dynasty in A.D. 589. During the Age of Faith, Taoism flourished, Confusion became a philosophy of the wealthy and Buddhism took root among the masses. Taoists and Buddhists fought over souls for salvation. Many Buddhist converts were formerly Taoists.

The age of civil wars and disunity began with the era of the Three Kingdoms (Wei, Shu, and Wu, which had overlapping reigns during the period A.D. 220-800). In later times, fiction and drama greatly romanticized the reputed chivalry of this period. Unity was restored briefly in the early years of the Jin dynasty (A.D. 265-420), but the Jin could not long contain the invasions of the nomadic peoples. In A.D. 317 the Jin court was forced to flee from Luoyang and reestablished itself at Nanjing to the south. The transfer of the capital coincided with China's political fragmentation into a succession of dynasties that was to last from A.D. 304 to 589. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

During this period the process of sinicization accelerated among the non-Chinese arrivals in the north and among the aboriginal tribesmen in the south. This process was also accompanied by the increasing popularity of Buddhism (introduced into China in the first century A.D.) in both north and south China. Despite the political disunity of the times, there were notable technological advances. The invention of gunpowder (at that time for use only in fireworks) and the wheelbarrow is believed to date from the sixth or seventh century. Advances in medicine, astronomy, and cartography are also noted by historians. *

Websites and Resources

Three Kingdoms

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia ; Google Book: China’s Golden Age: Everday Life in the Tang Dynasty by Charles ; Warring States Project Warring States Project Empress ;

Good Websites and Sources on Tang Culture: Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Tang Poems ; Tang Horses China Vista : Links in this Website: CHINA CERAMICS ; CHINESE PAINTING

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Ancient China Life ; 2) Ancient China for School Kids ; 3) Oriental Style ; 4) Chinese Text Project ; 5) Minnesota State University site ; 6) ; 7) Early Medieval China Journal ; 8) History of China ; 9) U.S.C. Education Books: Cambridge History of Ancient China edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996)

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland ; 2) Brooklyn College site ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge ; 5) China History Forum ; 6) e-book ; 7 ) WWW VL: History China

Three Kingdoms (A.D. 200-280)

The age of civil wars and disunity began with the era of the Three Kingdoms (Wei, Shu, and Wu, which had overlapping reigns during the period A.D. 220-80.

Three Kingdoms (220–265) rulers: 1) WEI: Wendi (220–226); Mingdi (227–239); Shaodi (240–253); Gao Gui Xiang Gong (254–260); Yuandi (260–264). 2) WU: Wudi (222–252); Feidi (252–258); Jingdi (258–264); Modi (264–280). 3) SHU HAN: Xuande (221–223); Hou Zhu (23–263); Western Jin Dynasty ((265–317); Wudi (265–289); Huidi (290–306); Huaidi (307–312); Mindi (313–316). [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Emperor Chao Lieh (Liu Pei, A.D. 211-223) had a reputation for cruelty. Once the keeper of the crown placed his coat on the Emperor Chao to keep him warm after he fell asleep in a drunken stupor. When the Emperor awoke he decreed that the crown keeper had overstepped his authority and had him executed.

Trends, Influences and Pressures During the Early Six Dynasties Era

Warlords in AD 208

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “After the fall of the Han Dynasty (220 A.D.), the supremacy of its central ideology, state Confucianism, came into question. The period of over 350 years which followed the fall of the Han was one of political division and instability, marked by frequent wars and economic hardship. This period, known as the Six Dynasties Period (220-589 A.D.), is China’s closest parallel to Europe’s Dark Ages. For most of the period, North China was under the rule of nomadic tribes which had invaded China from the northern steppe, while South China was ruled by weak Chinese governments, staffed by an elite more interested in personal cultivation than in administration. Shang c. 1700 – 1045 B.C. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The structure of power during the Six Dynasties era was a product of developments during the late Han. With no single central government able to exert control over all of China, power tended to be dispersed among the great clans that had arisen after the Wang Mang interregnum, and gained increasing power as the Han declined. The lack of central authority also made China more vulnerable to incursions by nomadic tribes from outside the Chinese state. This was particularly true in the North /+/

“Although the Xiongnu, who had so threatened the early Han, no longer existed as a tribal confederacy, there were other strong groups that flourished on the northern steppe. Ultimately, a number of kingdoms established in North China during the era of disunity were ruled by tribal invaders who exercised relatively strong control in their regions, while dynasties of the South had Chinese rulers, whose power was limited by the competition of the great clans descended from the later Han. While this division was not absolute, it contributed to a gradual deepening of cultural differences between northern and southern Chinese.” /+/

Turkic and Mongol Influences in 4th Century China

Ping-Ti Ho, the late Chinese-American historian at Columbia University, wrote: “After the To-pa Hsien-pei [a Turkic-Mongol group] founded the Northern Wei dynasty in 386 and reunified all North China thirty years later, peace in general prevailed. The various non-Chinese ethnic groups, which had been uprooted from tribal living within and without the Chin empire since the beginning of the fourth century, were now scattered far and wide and mingled daily with the Chinese population. The continual deportation cumulatively involving a million Chinese peasants and craftsmen to the Northern Wei metropolitan area of Northern Shansi took place simultaneously with efforts to relocate large numbers of Hsien-pei soldiers for settled village farming. Forces of acculturation went on apace throughout the empire, while the cream of the Hsien-pei tribal army was stationed in the six northern headquarters, keeping constant vigilance against the fierce marauding Jou-jan nomads. [Source: Excerpted from Ping-Ti Ho, “In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski’s “Reenvisioning the Qing,” ” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 123-155 <*>]

“Contrary to the necessarily gradual process of acculturation at the bottom of the social scale, the ethnic aristocracy was susceptible to Chinese cultural influence rather early. A classic example is Chin Mi-ti (d. 86 B.C.), a captured heir-apparent to a Hsiung-nu Shan-yii (great khan), whose political and personal conduct was so profoundly influenced by Confucian moral precepts that he won contemporary recognition as a paragon of virtue; his descendants chose to die as Han loyalists rather than to serve the usurper Wang Mang [Han-shu, ch. 68}. Since such non-Chinese ethnic groups as the Huns, the Ti, and Ch’iang had been permitted to continue their tribal mode of living inside China since the first century B.C., it is to be expected that in the course of time their great and lesser chiefs knew the Han Chinese language. But I am surprised to learn that practically all of the leaders of various major non Chinese ethnic groups of the early fourth-century were not only well-versed in Chinese classics and history, but also took Chin Mi-ti as their role model. In spite of their inevitable involvement in the scramble for power which led to the rise and fall of a number of non-Chinese dominated regional states, their full acceptance of Confucian morals, norms, and of the Chinese imperial system as the only political orthodoxy indicates a considerably higher degree of sinicization than is usually expected of the “barbarians” [Chin-shu, ch. 101-3, passim}. <*>

“Although the dynasty-founding To-pa group was less sinicized than the two other Hsien-pei subnations, they also had to follow the logic of the time: to shift a largely nomadic economy to the Chinese type of sedentary agriculture and to adopt by increasing measure the Chinese imperial system and bureaucracy for better management of the majority Chinese subjects. Besides, culturally and institutionally sinicization would serve as a common denominator with which to homogenize the polyethnic subject population. For all these reasons, the Hsiao-wen emperor from 494 onwards embarked upon a policy of systematic sinicization, which consisted of such measures as the moving of the capital from northern Shansi to Loyang, which was the heart of the agricultural zone, the prohibition of Hsien-pei language, the use of Chinese as the lingua franca, the change of polysyllabic Hsien-pei surnames into monosyllabic Chinese ones, the abandonment of Hsien-pei costumes for Chinese-style attires, and the full-scale adoption of Chinese rituals and legal code. By forcing the Hsien-pei aristocracy to take up permanent residence in the new metropolitan Loyang area and by encouraging their intermarriage with Chinese noble houses, he succeeded in forging a close bond between the biethnic ruling class. All these were parts of longrange planning for a military conquest of the southern Chinese dynasty-the only way to gain legitimacy to supreme rulership of the entire China world. <*>

“Emperor Hsiao-wen did not live to see the realization of his ultimate goal. On the contrary, full-scale sinicization in the Loyang area made the Northern Wei court, aristocracy, and officialdom increasingly extravagant and effete. The subsequent negligence and degradation of the Hsien-pei rank and file at the six northern garrison headquarters precipitated a strong nativist revolt that lasted ten years and finally brought down the Northern Wei dynasty in 534. North China was politically divided into an eastern and a western state until the former was annexed by the latter in 577. <*>

“Initially, both the eastern and western states had to vie with each other in attracting the broken-up units of the northern garrison forces. While the east ~remained strongly nativist and prejudiced against the majority Chinese population, the west carried out a policy of appeasing the nativist sentiments of the traditional Hsien-pei elements, on the one hand, and of generating a sense of Hsien-pei-Chinese solidarity, on the other. At the bottom, the “privilege” of military service was extended to propertied Chinese farmers, the backbone of the newly ‘created Chinese fu-ping army, so as to broaden the social and ethnic base of armed forces. At the top, the policy of power-sharing and intermarriage between the Hsien-pei and Chinese aristocracy was so successful that it was precisely this so-called Kuan-Lung (Shensi-Kansu) bloc that finally reunified all China and founded the Sui-T’ang multiethnic empires. <*>

Buddhism and Taosim in the Six Dynasties Period

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Another factor in this division concerned the nature of intellectual traditions and state ideologies. Non-Chinese royal houses in the North, who had little understanding of the Chinese tradition, were far more subject to being influenced by non-Chinese systems of thought, particularly Buddhism, which, during the Six Dynasties period, became the most dynamic intellectual force in China. Although Buddhism was influential in both North and South, some Northern states adopted it as official religious doctrine, while in the south, Buddhism traditions were less associated with the state, and more closely related to the intellectual interests of the elite. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Buddhism’s rise did not become dramatic immediately after the fall of the Han, although the misadventures of the late Han and the aftermath of the unseemly battles between Confucians and eunuchs had seriously undermined the influence of Confucian traditions. During the early years of the Six Dynasties period, cynicism about Confucian ideas led many members of the educated class to turn increasingly to Daoist books. At the same time, the uncertainties of official life led some of the best of these men to withdraw from politics and concentrate on the cultivation of refined tastes and lofty ideas, which they shared only with like-minded circles of intimates. /+/

“These Daoistically inclined cliques produced some of the most individualistic literature ever written in China. Freed from the constraints of Confucianism and its belief in the social nature of man, these Neo-Daoists came to value spontaneity and eccentricity to a degree that Confucianism could not tolerate. Often living apart from society, these men concentrated on the skills of poetry, music, and painting, and particularly celebrated the effects of wine in enhancing positions at court cultivated a separate sphere of unrestrained aesthetic abandon. /+/

“As in the Dark Ages of Europe, during which Christianity grew to become the dominant theme of European culture, the Six Dynasties Period saw the sudden flourishing of a religious movement: Buddhism, which swept into China from India and transformed both popular and elite views of the world. From the sixth century through the eighth century, Buddhism was unquestionably the dominant philosophy and religion of China. But its popularity was initially made possible only because of the affinities which intellectually prominent Neo-Daoists felt for the new religion, which in superficial ways resembled Daoism. /+/

“Neo-Daoism was also instrumental in re-introducing the human arts into the Confucian ideal of the gentleman, or “ literatus.” When Confucianism came once again to the forefront after 589, the year in which the short-lived Sui Dynasty reunited China, it incorporated into its ideal persona much of the devotion to spontaneous poetry, painting, music—and occasionally wine—that the Neo-Daoists had stressed. /+/

“The most famous Neo-Daoists were the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove,” a group of eccentric geniuses who, in popular imagination at least, formed the most brilliant circle of literati” and represented “the unorthodox tone of Neo-Daoist society during the period of disunity.” Among the three most well-known ones were: Ruan Ji (210-263),Xi Kang (223-262), who was executed as a threat to public morality, and Liu Ling (d. after 265).

Ruan Ji

Stories about Ruan Ji (210-263) in the “Shishuo xinyu”:“1. When Ruan Ji, the Commandant of Infantry, whistled, he could be heard from several hundred paces. Now at this time, a Perfected Sage had suddenly appeared in the Sumen Mountains and the woodcutters there were all recounting tales about him. Ruan Ji went to see for himself and spied the man crouched by a cliff side with his arms around his knees. Ruan Ji climbed the ridge to reach him and squatting down facing him, he began to speak with the man about matters of remotest antiquity. He touched on the mysteries of the Dao of the Yellow Emperor and the Spirit-like Farmer, and the excellence of the Three Eras, Xia, Shang, and Zhou. But when Ruan Ji asked the man for his views, the man simply raised his head high and made no reply. Ruan Ji then went on to speak of that which lies beyond human pursuits and the techniques for settling the spirit within and controlling one’s vital qi, laying this all before the man. Yet he continued to look away with a fixed stare. Thereupon, Ruan Ji blew a long whistle towards him. After a long wait, the man laughed and said, “Do it again.” Ruan Ji whistled a second time, but having now lost interest, he departed. When he had returned slightly further than halfway down the ridge, he heard from above a long drawn sound, as though a full orchestra were playing. The forests and valleys below echoed with the music. Turning back, he saw it was the man whistling. [Source:“Shishuo xinyu” (“New accounts of tales of the world”), a fifth century collection of anecdotes; Robert Eno, Indiana University *~* ]

“2) When the office of the Commandant of Infantry fell vacant, several thousand measures of wine were stored in its commissary. That is how Ruan Ji came to seek appointment as Commandant of Infantry. 3) Ruan Ji’s sister-in-law was once preparing to return to her parents’ home, and Ruan Ji went to visit and bid her farewell. When he was attacked for this breach of rules, Ruan Ji said, “How could ritual li have been established for people like me?” [According to ritual texts, a man was not to have private contact with his sister-in-law.] 4) The wife of Ruan Ji’s neighbor was a beautiful woman. She worked at a wine shop, tending bar and selling wine. Ruan Ji and Wang Rong frequently went to her bar to drink, and after Ruan became drunk he would lie down beside her and sleep. When he first heard about it the husband was very alarmed, but after he spied on them he realized that after all there was nothing more to it. *~*

“5) During the period when Ruan Ji was observing mourning rites for his late mother, he attended a gathering in the house of the Prime Minister, Sima Zhao, and helped himself to meat and wine. Capital District Governor He Zeng, who was also present, said to Prince Wen, “My Lord, you govern the world through your filial devotion, yet Ruan Ji brazenly appears here during his period of deep mourning, drinking wine and eating meat as a banquet guest. He should be exiled from the realm to demonstrate to all what is proper.” Sima Zhao replied, “Look how Ruan Ji has grieved himself into a state of emaciation – how can you fail to feel empathy for him in his troubles? And after all, the ritual li do include the rule, ‘When one is ill, drink wine and eat meat.’” Meanwhile, Ruan Ji went right on gulping down meat and wine, completely at ease in mind and appearance. *~*

“6. When the emperor had the Wei court enfoeff Sima Zhao as Duke of Jin, full ceremony was employed, including the bestowal of the Nine Imperial Gifts. But Sima Zhao was adamant in refusing to accept them. All the leading figures of government, civil and military, set off for Sima Zhao’s headquarters to urge him to accept. The Director of Works, Zheng Chong, sent a messenger galloping off to Ruan Ji requesting a letter supporting their request. Ruan Ji was at the home of Yuan Zhen, drunk and fast asleep after a night of carousing. Raised from his bed with the assistance of others, he began writing on a wooden tablet. Without any changes or stray blots of ink, he straightaway completed his inscription and handed it to the messenger. Contemporaries judged it an inspired work.” *~*

The next two stories deal with Ruan Ji’s nephew, Ruan Xian (234-305), another of the Seven Sages: “7) All the households of the Ruan clan dwelt to the north of the main street, only Ruan Xian and his uncle Ruan Ji had homes to the south. [The Ruans had been Confucian 5 scholars for generations, and were adept at securing prestigious posts, but the southern Ruans esteemed Daoism and avoided responsibilities, devoting themselves to drink.] The northern Ruans were all wealthy; the southern Ruans were poor. On the seventh day of the seventh month, as was the custom at the time, the northern Ruans took their robes and hung them above their courtyards to sun – nothing but delicate silk gauze and colorful brocades. Over his courtyard, Ruan Xian set a bamboo pole on which he hung a big pair of calf-nose underpants, prompting some people to express astonishment. “I wouldn’t want to violate custom,” he replied. “I’m just doing what I can.” 8) The Ruans were all great drinkers, but when Ruan Xian joined a clan gathering, they put away the everyday wine cups and seated themselves round a great terra cotta vat from which they gulped down big drafts. Once a herd of pigs got in and went straight up to the vat, whereupon the men simply drank from the vat with the pigs.” *~*

Xi Kang and Liu Ling

Stories about Xi Kang (223-262), who was executed as a threat to public morality, in the “Shishuo xinyu”: “9. Zhong Hui was a man of keen intelligence and ability. Not being previously acquainted with Xi Kang, he assembled some of the most worthy and outstanding men of the time and went with them to pay Xi Kang a visit. Xi Kang was at that moment engaged in forging a metal object beneath a tree with Xiang Xiu (a famous commentator on the “Zhuangzi”), who was assisting him at the bellows. Xi Kang went right on pounding his hammer as if nobody had come, letting the time pass by without exchanging a single word until Zhong Hui rose to go. “What had you heard that made you come?” said Xi Kang. “What have you seen that makes you go?” “I came after hearing what I’d heard,” Zhong Hui replied. “I go after seeing what I’ve seen.”Zhong Hui was well connected, and Xi Kang was ill advised to be witty at his expense. When Xi Kang ultimately was put to death, it was Zhong Hui who successfully urged his execution. [Source:“Shishuo xinyu” (“New accounts of tales of the world”), a fifth century collection of anecdotes; Robert Eno, Indiana University *~* ]

“10. As Xi Kang was taken towards the Eastern Marketplace for execution, his spirit and bearing were unchanged. Reaching for his zither he began to play “The Melody of Guangling.” When the song was ended, he said, “Yuan Zhun once asked to learn this piece from me, but I was unwilling to give it to him and I never relented. And now indeed the ‘Melody of Guangling’ shall be no more.”

Stories about Liu Ling (d. after 265) in the “Shishuo xinyu”: 11) Liu Ling was about five feet tall and very crude in appearance. Dissolute and reckless, he viewed the universe as inconsequential and all things as of equal value. He was a man of few words and did not make friends easily, but when he met Ruan Ji and Xi Kang his felt the joy of grasping like-minded spirits, and he entered the grove with them hand in hand. From the start having had no concern about the wealth of his household, he used to ride in a deer drawn cart, hoisting a pot of wine, with a servant following behind him shouldering a spade. “If I should die,” he ordered him, “bury me on the spot.” [Source:“Shishuo xinyu” (“New accounts of tales of the world”), a fifth century collection of anecdotes; Robert Eno, Indiana University *~* ]

12) Liu Ling never put his mind into written composition. By the end of his era, the only surviving work bearing his name was his “Hymn to the Virtue of Wine.” 13) Hungover with a powerful thirst, Liu Ling asked his wife to bring him some wine. But his wife poured out all his wine and smashed the wine vessels. Then she pleaded with him, tears streaming down. “Your drinking has gone too far! This is no way to preserve your life. You have to cut it off!” Ling said, “You are perfectly right, but I can’t quit by myself. I need to offer a prayer and take a sacred oath to quit before the spirits. Please prepare offerings of wine and meat right away.” “I shall do exactly as you say,” said his wife.

She set out wine and meat before the spirit tablets and asked Ling to proceed with his prayer and oath. Ling knelt down and prayed:
Heaven gave to Liu Ling life
And made him famed for wine.
Gulping a gallon, for hangover’s grief
Five pints will make him fine.
As for the talking of his wife,
Be sure to pay no mind!” Then he drained the wine and ate the meat, and in no time he was drunk again. *~*

“14. Often when Liu Ling drank without restraint he would behave with wanton freedom, sometimes stripping off his clothes and sitting naked in his room. Once, when some visitors encountered him in this state they rebuked him. “I take Heaven and Earth for my pillars and roof,” he replied, “and the rooms of my house are my jacket and pants. What are you gentlemen doing in my pants?” *~*

Selections from Six Dynasties Neo-Daoism

According to the “Shishuo xinyu”: Rejection of authority of history and political order: 15. When the heavens and earth first separated and the things of the world were first born... there were no rulers and affairs were well settled, there were no officials and everything was in order. People took good care of themselves and nourished their natural qualities, never violating the proper norms.... Once rulers were set upon thrones, cruelty arose; once officials were set in their positions, banditry was born. They sat fashioning the li and the law codes, and tying the people in bonds. (Ruan Ji) [Source:“Shishuo xinyu” (“New accounts of tales of the world”), a fifth century collection of anecdotes; Robert Eno, Indiana University *~* ]

“Rejection of Han traditions of scholarship: 16. The pivot of the Six Classics is repression, whereas human nature experiences joy in free and easy action. Repression goes against man’s inclinations; he attains to naturalness by following his desires. Thus of course attaining a state of naturalness cannot come from the Six Classics. To fully realize human nature we have no need of rituals and codes that violate our basic dispositions. (Xi Kang)

Rejection of “family” values and the Five Relationships: 17. Why should there exist any loving attachment between father and son? The real root of the relationship was simply an eruption of the father’s lust. And what exactly is the relationship between a mother and son? A son in his mother’s womb is no different from a thing in a jug – once it’s out of the jug, the thing is completely separate. [Dr. Robert Eno wrote: “This comment is attributed to Kong Rong, who actually lived just prior to the transition from the Han to the Six Dynasties period. Kong was a descendant of Confucius, and this suggests how dramatic the reaction to state ideology was as the Han order unraveled. But the late Han state did resist this trend, and Kong’s comment was recorded in an indictment that led to his execution. *~*

“Valuation of uniqueness in individuals: 18. In all their conduct, though they may differ in particulars, true gentlemen are alike in always acting in accord with their natures, each cleaving to that which is most natural to him.... When people form a relationship between one another, what each prizes is understanding the innate nature of the other, and aiding him in accord with it.... In such relationships people support one another from first to last; they truly know one another. When you see a straight piece of wood, you don’t try to make it into a wheel. 19. As with all things, everyone possesses a form; everyone’s form possesses a spirit-like essence. Only when we are able to fully grasp someone’s spirit essence can we exhaustively understand his nature. *~*

“General loosening of social custom among the elite: 20. Since the last days of the Han Dynasty... people have taken to appearing with hair all ungroomed, sashless gowns loosely dangling. Some mingle wearing only underclothing, other sit naked with their legs crossed.... They no longer bother to bid one another goodbye when they part or to inquire their good health when they meet. Guests walk in and shout for the servants, hosts call their dogs while looking at their guests. If someone doesn’t behave this way people say he can’t be an intimate friend and they break off with him, dropping him from their circle. When friends gather they slouch like wolves and drink like cattle, jostling as they grab for food and wine. *~*

“Valuation of intimacy: 21. Wang Rong’s wife always addressed him with the familiar pronoun “you.” Wang Rong said to her, “The codes of ritual li say that it is a sign of disrespect for a wife to address her husband as ‘you’ – don’t do it again!” His wife replied, “It’s you I am close to and you whom I love, and that’s why it’s ‘you’ that I say. If I should not address you by calling you ‘you,’ who should?” After that he allowed her to do it. *~*

“22. In his prose poem “Nearby Wanderings,” Shu Xi described utopia in these terms:
There lies a land the world forgot,
The people in their fields,
Each happy with his five-mu plot,
Hearts broader than the world....
There women call their husbands ‘you’
And sons call fathers by their names. *~*

“The art of a Neo-Daoist painter: 23. When Gu Kaizhi painted a person’s portrait, he might not dot the pupils of the eyes for several years. When someone asked him why, he said, “Beauty or ugliness of body has nothing to do with a subject’s subtle essence. Conveying the spirit and realizing a true image lies precisely in painting these dots.” *~*

Southern Dynasties Map of Nanjing

Northern and Southern Dynasties (386–589)

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The period between 386 and 581 A.D. in Chinese history is conventionally called the Northern and Southern Dynasties, when North China—under the control of the Tuoba clan of the Xianbei tribe (a proto-Mongol people)—was politically separated from, yet culturally connected with, the Chinese dynasties established in Jiankang (Nanking). The Northern Wei rulers were ardent supporters of Buddhism, a foreign religion utilized as a theocratic power for ideological and social control of the predominantly Chinese population. In the south, meanwhile, Confucian intellectuals engaged themselves in Neo-Daoist debates on metaphysical subjects, and learned monks studied and propagated Buddhist ideas that were in some ways compatible with Daoist philosophy. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“The Buddhist rock-cut caves at the site of Yungang, constructed under the Northern Wei imperial sponsorship near Datong in present-day Shanxi Province, were decorated with sculptural images made after Indian models. The earlier archaic style began to change as a result of increasing diplomatic contacts between North and South China, particularly after a series of reform policies implemented by Emperor Xiaowen (r. 471–99). Marked by the adoption of Chinese language, costume, and political institutions, the Northern Wei reform contributed greatly to an artistic and cultural amalgamation in sixth-century China, which was also manifested in painting, calligraphy, the funerary and decorative arts, and the style of the cave-temples at Longmen in Henan Province."^/

“The end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties also saw the beginning of a large influx of foreign immigrants, most of whom were traders or Buddhist missionaries from Central Asia. Some settled in China and held official posts; they adopted the Chinese way of life, but maintained their own social customs and practiced native religions. By the time China was united again under the Sui (581–618), the country had already experienced decades of relative political stability and social mobility, and its continuous receptiveness to outside influences prepared the way for the advent of the most glorious and prosperous epoch in its history—the Tang dynasty (618–906). \^/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Page Top

© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.